ALAMO -- A multipurpose gymnasium proposed by a local church is being met with less than goodwill by members of the Alamo Improvement Association and some neighbors who feel the church is overstepping its reach.

In the plans for two years, the more than 8,000-square-foot gym and game room would be added to the San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church site on Danville Boulevard.

The Alamo Improvement Association's planning committee, which makes recommendations to the county, approved the gym in January, stipulating it be used only for church-related activities and that it close by 8 p.m. However, the church -- which boasts about 1,100 members -- is objecting to the curfew, and is considering allowing use by athletic groups like the Catholic Youth Organization and the YMCA.

Rev. Ron Dunn stands in the space at the San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church where the church plans to build a nearly 9,000-square-foot gymnasium and
Rev. Ron Dunn stands in the space at the San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church where the church plans to build a nearly 9,000-square-foot gymnasium and game room in Alamo, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 3, 2013. Neighbors and members of the Alamo Improvement Association are concerned that the church is overstepping its reach, saying if it becomes a community center it will adversely increase traffic and noise in the area. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

"The intent is to make it a gift to the community," said Rev. Ron Dunn, the senior co-pastor. "If it was just about perks for our members, we shouldn't do it. ... From every indication, this is needed, even if our neighbors don't see it."

Dunn said the gym is an opportunity to offer basketball, volleyball and exercise classes, not just for church members, but for Alamo residents who he says suffer from a "paucity of recreational space." Ideally, he said, the church would like the facility to operate until 10 p.m., but is willing to compromise.

After hearing from church officials and opponents at its Sept. 16 meeting, the Contra Costa County zoning administrator continued a decision on the plan until Oct. 21.


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The AIA planning committee now opposes the proposal and fears gym plans are going in the wrong direction and would threaten the neighborhood's residential character.

"The conversation and discussion of this application are now significantly different than when originally presented to AIA by the applicant," wrote board President Roger Smith in a letter to the county. "It changes what was to have been a facility of relatively 'low impact' to the surrounding area to a 'high impact' facility."

"If it became a community center rather than a church, that goes beyond the intentions of Alamo's general plan," said AIA member Mike Gibson. "One of the top concerns is the viability of residential neighborhoods along Danville Boulevard; it's the backbone of the community."

The gym's construction is being made possible through an anonymous donor, who some have surmised is the YMCA itself. Dunn called the rumor "absolutely ludicrous," describing the donor as a private individual and a "recreational aficionado" who saw the need for a basketball facility in Alamo. The purpose of the gym, he added, is not about "building the church's empire" or proselytizing, but connecting with the community.

Neighbor Scott Tiernan, who lives across Danville Boulevard from the church, accused church officials of being less than forthright about their gym plans. He speculates it will have a severe impact on traffic and noise on the two-lane boulevard, especially if used by outside entities.

"In our view, it's a community center. ... To put in a gym business in our neighborhood seems inappropriate." Tiernan said.

He added the church regularly leaves lights on all night, and that church members often park in the pedestrian right of way, creating safety issues for passing cyclists.

Church building committee member Quentin Alexander said lights are left on in the parking lot until 2 a.m. as a deterrent to theft, per the advice of the sheriff's department. The church is addressing neighbors' concerns, he said, by changing to less-intrusive LED lights, taking out windows, and constructing the gym to be virtually soundproof.

"We've met every requirement by the county," Alexander said. "We've tried to mitigate everything we can."

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.

if you go:
The Contra Costa County zoning administrator will hold a hearing to discuss San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church's plans for a new gymnasium at 1:30 p.m., Oct. 21 at 30 Muir Road in Martinez.